With Kevin Durant missing two of the four games in the first round of the NBA playoffs, Stephen Curry took center stage for the Golden State Warriors and delivered the best Round 1 of his career. Curry’s player efficiency rating of 29.0 was the best he has had in the first round of the postseason and the third best he has had in 12 career playoff series. The two-time MVP averaged 29.8 points per game and shot 42.2 percent from the 3-point line in the 4-0 sweep against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Gordon Hayward is the Utah Jazz’s best offensive player, as he averaged 21.9 points per game in the regular season, the most by any Jazz player since Hall of Famer Karl Malone in 2001-02. Yet Hayward has really struggled against the Warriors, shooting 31.6 percent in five games against them since the start of last season, his worst field goal percentage against any team. His player efficiency rating of 8.2 against the Warriors over that span is far below his PER of 20.6 that he has posted against the NBA’s other 28 teams over that same span.
One of the biggest keys in the Warriors-Jazz series will be pace. During the regular season, the Warriors averaged more than 102 possessions per 48 minutes, which was the fourth-fastest pace in the NBA. By contrast, the Jazz played at the NBA’s slowest pace, averaging 93.6 possessions per 48 minutes. The Jazz have had more success controlling tempo against the Warriors than any other team over the past two seasons, something they will surely need to do if they are to spring the upset. Golden State’s pace of 96.1 against Utah is its slowest against any opponent over the past two seasons and over six possessions slower than its average pace against all other teams.
Who will win the series? According to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, the Warriors are huge favorites, with a 92 percent chance to win the series and a 25 percent chance to sweep the series. BPI gives the Warriors an 84 percent chance to win Game 1. The most encouraging thing the Jazz can cling to is that they have a 41 percent chance to win on their home court. The Warriors won two of the three meetings during the regular season, but they lost at home on April 10, a game in which Klay Thompson did not play.